The following is a summary and commentary of the information presented by Kerry Shirts in his 2005 Sunstone presentation entitled "Joseph Smith as Egyptologist."
Kerry Shirts was once a researcher of the Book of Abraham, but in recent years, made the choice to no longer be a literal believer in Mormonism. That doesn't mean that his past research should be ignored or that it is invalidated because Kerry changed his mind. One can only hope that Kerry will "come to himself" someday.
Shirts pointed out Robert Ritner, an Egyptologist, criticized Joseph Smith for identifying the Osiris symbols in the papyri as Abraham in this Dialogue Article:
Egyptologists have acknowledged that private individuals become an Osiris after death, as Shirts says, "in the ancient Egyptian manner of thinking," each one identified with Osiris. Each King of Egypt was considered an Osiris. If private individuals are allowed to be an Osiris, then why couldn't Abraham be thought of as an Osiris? This is the question Shirts asks. That's possible with other individuals as well, so there is no reason Abraham is not an Osiris. The Lion couch scenes are from the mystery plays where Osiris is a figure in the play. But still, regular individuals were identified with Osiris.
Here is my article on the Wsir-Wr character in the Sensen Papyrus columns:
This is where I deal with Ed Ashment's article in Dialogue here:
Here is the Wsir-wr/Osiris is Great/Osiris the Great symbol in the Sensen Papyrus and a picture of it close-up:
As I have shown in my article, Ed Ashment, a critic of the Church, points out the Wsir-Wr (Osiris the Great, or Osiris is Great) hieroglyph in the columns from the Sensen papyrus, and notes how Joseph Smith identified this with Abraham. Shirts turns the tables on Ashment. Shirts points out, as I have also, in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar in the KEP, Joseph Smith consistently identified the figure that had to do with Osiris as Abraham, out of all the hundreds of other hieroglyphs that he could have picked in the set of papyri that he had. Shirts says that Ed Ashment is using it as an argument against Joseph Smith, but that it is actually something that is in support of Joseph Smith. So, as you can see, I am not the only one that pointed this out, but Kerry Shirts did as well. This further strengthens Ryan Larsen's and Kevin Barney's arguments in favor of the idea that Abraham was identified as Osiris.
So, as you can see, not only was Shirts arguing for the fact that there is consistency between the translations in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and the translations in the facsimiles explanations, but that Joseph Smith himself was responsible for the translations in the KEP, contrary to the people that claim that the scribes were just playing around in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, who claim that the translations are incorrect. So back then, as you can see, Kerry Shirts was basically agreeing with my principal claim in this blog, that Joseph Smith was responsible for the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, and was making translations of the symbols in the text of the Sensen Papyrus. Otherwise, Shirts would not have been defending Joseph Smith's identification of the Wsir-Wr character as Abraham from the TEXT of the columns from the Sensen Papyrus! And back then, before Shirts had stopped believing in Mormonism, his research was well-respected in the Apologetic community, even if other apologists and scholars didn't agree with Shirts on every point. All I'm saying is, this stuff isn't new that I'm saying, and respected people have made similar types of arguments before to what I'm saying on this blog. Don Bradley has argued in favor of Joseph Smith taking a translation of one of the characters in the KEP seriously, although I'm not sure if Bradley takes the position that Joseph Smith is responsible for all of the translations in it directly as I am.
Shirts says that Ed Ashment is using this against Joseph Smith, saying that he did not translate Egyptian precisely or correctly. But, then, Shirts says, "I agree. He did not translate that figure precisely as Osiris is Great. He did equate it with Abraham, in line with this idea of a private individual becoming an Osiris. I'm arguing this is really good consistency on Joseph Smith's part. How would he have known which hieroglyph to equate Abraham and Osiris with? He does it consistently in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar."
So, it is important to point out there that just because it is not translated with precision, in the sense of the "Egyptological" precision, Joseph Smith translated it in the sense that it was meant to be translated in from the Abrahamic context, the sense that it was meant to have in that context.
Now, as you can see, Shirts basically is pointing out something that I have pointed out over and over again in this blog. Here, Joseph Smith was equating two items, or creating a linkage between two items: Osiris and Abraham. Osiris is the abstraction, and Abraham is the meaning assignment. As Shirts says, and I quote it again for emphasis: "I agree. He did not translate that figure precisely as Osiris is Great. He did equate it with Abraham . . ." Shirts was not precisely interpreting it in light of the general principle that I have distilled from my studies of Joseph Smith's Egyptian, where I say that always, in the Sensen Papyrus and the Hypocephalus of Sheshonq, you have abstract symbols with concrete assignments like variables in a derivative composition, where the abstract symbols have criteria in common with the value assignment. In other words, Shirts didn't necessarily recognize this as a general and fundamental principle for each and every translation the way I am. But this statement of Shirts says that he did not PRECISELY translate it as Osiris, but that he EQUATED the symbol with Abraham in that case. That is exactly what I'm talking about, and the wording Shirts uses here shows the principle. Because there is imprecision in a symbol that is abstract, and when you make a value assignment to it, you are equating that imprecise or abstract thing with the concrete, precise thing that you assign to it. And it is the LIKENESS BETWEEN the meaning and the symbol that is the justification of the equation between them. That act of equating it is an action where you have a literal thing that you assign to a non-literal symbol. This is why Shirts statement here is so important. Because Shirts is describing the principle I'm pointing out, by saying that something was not "PRECISELY" translated, but that something else was "EQUATED" with it. That is exactly what I'm talking about as a GENERAL PRINCIPLE in Joseph Smith's Egyptian. I cannot speak for what Shirts would have said back in the day if I would have pointed this general principle out to him. Since Shirts now is no longer believes in Mormonism, I know what he would say now. But I assert that his change of opinion does not invalidate the validity of his previous research. And so, I assert that Shirts' statement backs up my general principle.
Then Shirts, like Kevin Barney, points out the story in Luke Chapter 9 about Lazarus and the Bosom of Abraham. Shirts points out that this story is based on a tale in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and that this fact is acknowledged by New Testament scholars. He then quotes one New Testament scholar said that, "Abraham must be a Jewish substitute for the pagan god Osiris in the New Testament story of the Bosom of Abraham." And so, Shirts is arguing that if there is no objection to Abraham as being Osiris in the bosom of Abraham story, he can hardly see why there is an objection against Abraham being Osiris on the Lion Couch scenes in the funeral papyri and in other Egyptian art. Note the word substitute here. Yet, again the principle is manifest that I'm talking about.
Shirts brings up the Testament of Abraham and the Apocalypse of Abraham, two early apocryphal/extra-canonical writings that are appealed to a lot by LDS defenders. And Shirts notes that in the story in this literature, Abraham drew the cosmos or cosmological map in a circle, drawing a diagram the form and shape, similar to our Facsimile #2, the hypocephalus. Shirts notes that the scholars have said that the Book of the Dead material is the basis of the story in the Testament of Abraham. So, he notes, there is an Egyptian connection with Abraham in the extra-canonical writings. It's not just the Testament of Abraham, Shirts says:
It's the same principle with the Apocalypse of Abraham. Now the argument against the Joseph Smith Book of Abraham is the papyri, it's simply the Book of the Dead. Yes, some of it is. There are many chapters of the Book of the Dead in the Joseph Smith Papyri. It's also some of the Book of Breathings, a later version of the Egyptian literature. But that is how it is supposed to be, based on the other Abraham literature we have, detailing the information of his life experience. If it's not based on Egyptian, then Joseph Smith is in trouble. But it is based on Egyptian. The critics are using this as an argument against the Book of Abraham. I'm saying, based upon all the literature we possess, it HAS to be. I'm going to turn the tables here. Hugh Nibley already turned the tables, for those of you familiar with it. I'm just simply repeating his argument in a way. So, it has to be based on two types of the Egyptian literature, the cosmological materials, and the mythology and the iconography. And it is. That's my argument on that part.Indeed, the Book of Breathings is material derived and perhaps "abridged" or condensed from Book of the Dead material and tradition. And so, in other words, Shirts is saying that it is entirely within what is expected with the historic Abrahamic phenomenon that Book of the Dead/funerary material would be REPURPOSED as Abrahamic in a derivative composition, or in a tradition. Because, even the Savior used a tale from the Book of the Dead that the Savior himself repurposed, as we have shown that Barney had pointed out in other posts on this blog. And the fact that it is repurposed, means that it is given a meaning separate from what it was originally used for. So Shirts is arguing that within this context, this is actually expected. In other posts in this blog, I have shown that this is a broader phenomenon that was practiced by the Syncretists, and also, that every single character in the Sensen Papyrus was repurposed for the new context.
Then Shirts discusses the hypocephalus. He discusses the damage shown to the Hypocephalus in the copy in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. He brings up Charles Larson's book By His Own Hand On Papyrus. He says that Larson is suspicious of Joseph Smith's restorations of the hypocephalus (facsimile #2) and other parts of the papyri. Larson says that Joseph Smith restored things incorrectly and so he is skeptical of it. But Shirts had copies of 45 hypocephali himself to do comparisons with, he said, and that he can validate many of Joseph Smith's restoration efforts.
Shirts mentions Charles Larson's criticism of the reconstruction of the hypocephalus for figure 1, where the Khnum-Ra (Kolob) figure usually has four heads, and so, for Larson, he is skeptical that Joseph Smith got that reconstruction right. In Joseph Smith's reconstruction, it is given two heads. But Shirts points out that there are indeed hypocephali out there that have two heads, although they are fewer than the ones with four heads. And Shirts points out that the fact is that each hypocephalus was individualized for each individual person that one was made for. Every one of them is individual in some respect. Furthermore, Shirts showed other pictures that demonstrate that Khnum-Ra in other Egyptian art was shown as having two ram heads pretty often.
Then he goes on to note that Khnum-Ra is the creator. He represents the spirits of the four elements. He is the soul of the material world. The coffin texts mention that he is created in the "heart of the great god." I must interject here that many LDS scholars have pointed out that in Hebrew, heart is the word leb, and in other Semitic languages, the heart is qalb. And Shirts noted this. The word Kolob, of course, is derived from the Semitic root QRB, because the L and the R are interchangeable, and that root means "to be near." In the Book of Abraham, the Lord says it is called Kolob, because it is near unto him. The Arabs used the word qalb in the names of many of their brightest stars. Anyhow, Shirts goes on to say that keleb means to flip-flop, to alternate, etc. as Hugh Nibley has pointed out. And so, this is very descriptive of Khnum-Ra, being two-sided and two-headed. (See Nibley's article at http://www.boap.org/LDS/Hugh-Nibley/TrFac.html). Shirts also points out that Khnum-Ra is properly called "the Governor." As Joseph Smith says, Kolob is the Governor of the rest of the stars in the system to which it belongs, being first in government. Also, Nibley brings up the fact that a related Indo-European root exists, which is KLB, which is found in words with the idea in them of "to be near," in the Indo-European language family, such as kleben, clip, kolophon, cleave (unto), clap, clasp, couple, clabber, etc. (One Eternal Round, p. 251).
Here is an article of Shirts' other research on Khnum-Ra:
Shirts points out that the double-headed figure #2 of the Hypocephalus is the Egyptian version of the "Janus" figure that is the key-holder, known as Wep-wawet.
This figure indeed holds a scepter from the image extracted from Facsimile 2 above. This picture of the god has two heads. In the next picture, he is the Jackal/Wolf-headed god, he also holds an ankh as a key in his right hand. The figure looks back into the past, and into the future at the same time, and thus has two heads. He is the opener of the way, he that has the keys of power, because that is what a key does. It opens the way. He is Wep-Wawet, the figure that opens the way for the dead to enter the realms of Osiris. He is associated with the star Sirius, the opener of the way for the Egyptian growing season. And he is also Ursa Minor. As Oliblish, this holds the key of power for the governing of other stars and planets, because that is the literal value-assignment for the abstraction of the Wep-Wawet symbol. As you can see yet again, the literal value-assignment shares key attributes/criteria with the abstract symbol. Nibley says of the staff of the Web-Wawet: "Joseph Smith calls the staff a key, 'the key of power.'" And then Nibley goes on to say that the Hebrew word for key, miptah, means "opener." (One Eternal Round, p. 268). Here is a picture of the Roman version of Wep-wawet, the god called Janus, with two heads, holding the key, and also holding the scepter:
In ancient Roman religion and myth, Janus . . . is the god of beginnings and transitions, and thereby of gates, doors, doorways, passages and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past . . . (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janus)This is a perfect symbol to represent Oliblish, the grand Key. As Hugh Nibley has said, Wepwawet, or Janus, is the origin of the word janitor, because a janitor is the one that holds the keys to a building.
Shirts mentions that Ed Ashment says that Joseph Smith took the ship (figure 3) from another papyrus and placed it in the Facsimile 2. However, Shirts mentions that the hieroglyphic next to it, that Joseph Smith placed there, that is not original to it, in Egyptian, says "the boat of the God." That fits perfectly where he placed it, but it was not original to the document.
Then for figures in Facsimile #3, Shirts says that the main argument against Joseph Smith's explanation is that Joseph Smith claims that the names of King Pharoah and Prince of Pharoah are given in the hieroglyphs above them. Shirts says that Michael Rhodes translated it, and says that for Pharoah, it is "Isis, the Great Mother of the Gods." And for Prince of Pharoah, it is "Maat, Lady of the West." And so, anti-Mormons are saying that these translations are incorrect.
In response, Shirts said: "I would argue that Joseph Smith is giving us not a literal translation word-for-word, but he is giving us the idea. He's sharing the concept. He didn't give us the journey of how he arrived at his interpretations. He simply gives us the final answer. So that's what we're stuck with. I wish he would have told us a little more, but unfortunately he didn't."
This statement, again, basically says exactly what I'm saying. The characters are not a literal translation, word-for-word, of the "text." This is secondary intent, a repurposing of characters in a new composition entirely. These characters become abstract, and a new context is imposed on them by an interpreter. It is only by having the key, or the explanation that Joseph Smith gave us, that we know the end result. This is why I have said, knowing where things begin (i.e. with the literal meanings of Egyptian characters), and where they end (i.e. the explanations given to us by Joseph Smith), we have something like the Rosetta Stone. It is true that Joseph Smith didn't give what Shirts calls the "journey" of how he got there. Nevertheless, we can discern the relationships between the abstract symbols and the value-assignments to them because we have the key or the table of value-assignments, because we have a starting-point and an endpoint. What we do to discover the relationships inbetween is called reverse-engineering.
Various LDS researchers and scholars have pointed out that this is the principle of "proxy," or a person taking upon them the characteristics of the god that they impersonate. And this is what Shirts is suggesting here. Thus, "Pharoah" is taking upon him the nature and aspects of Isis, while "Prince of Pharoah" is taking upon him the nature and aspects of Maat. So this is the ritual behind it. But the same exact principle is when a character is ritualistically repurposed, becoming abstract, where a value-assignment is given.
In Ritner's article that I linked to above, Ritner says in endnote 119:
Reference to a costumed private individual in the Roman procession of Isis is not evidence that the figure of Isis here (no. 2) is "King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his head," as published by Joseph Smith. Smith misunderstood "Pharaoh" as a personal name (cf. Abraham 1:25), and the name above figure 2 is unquestionably that of the female Isis. Osiris (fig. 1) is certainly not "Abraham," nor is it possible that the altar of Osiris (fig. 3) "signifies Abraham." Maat (fig. 4) is not a male "prince," Hor (fig. 5) is not a "waiter," nor is Anubis (fig. 6) a "slave" (because of his dark skin). Such interpretations are uninspired fantasies and are defended only with the forfeiture of scholarly judgment and credibility.Shirts, on the other hand, points out how in the Coffin texts (Coffin text 728), the deceased takes upon them the aspects and nature of the god that they impersonate, through identification with that god. And that this is the essence of the word "endowment." To be endowed, the person is endowed with the characteristics in question, and becomes "someone else." The "king" or "initiate" becomes "replete with godhead." The initiate or proxy becomes an extension of the personality of the god. The king assumes the rank of the superior deity. "The transformation of the human into the divine was the Egyptian goal in their whole religion. That's the point," he says. So Ritner's quibble falls flat on its face. Ritner wants to put limits on the ability of the Egyptians to have used this fundamental principle of their religion and of their documents for that manner, wherever they pleased to do so. Impersonation or "Incarnation," as Professor James Faulconer puts it, is the whole point. This is essentially similar to the LDS concept of divine investiture, where in the scriptures, Christ takes upon him the identity of his Father and becomes a proxy, and speaks for his Father. As Shirts says, it is a "total fusion of identity." And this is symbolized in Egyptian ritual as a ritualistic embrace. Shirts points out how this is why so many Egyptian deities are combined deities. Such as how Amon-Ra is a combination of the deity Amon and the deity Ra. Shirts says that this is done by the ingesting of the wedjat-eye, which is a symbol of all that is good, delightful, beautiful and useful. It represents the spirit, or ba, of the deity him/herself. So, by ingesting it, they take upon themselves the identity. It is the sacrament, so to speak: ingesting the essence of the deity. When you become Christian, you take upon yourself the name of Christ. Egyptians took upon them the name of Osiris. The hearts of the children are turned to their fathers, and they come together, linked together in embrace. This is why it is "heart to heart" because of embrace, the one heart facing the other in ritual. This is why the hearts are linked together when the children do temple work for ancestors. Because there is even an action that symbolizes this "heart to heart" in the ritual.
As Shirts says, for an Egyptian king to be legitimate, he must be identified with Maat, or justice. It is the personification of the concept of justice. Isis' name means "throne." Of course the King must identify with her, because he must identify with her because she is the seat of the authority of the king. And in order for him to identify with Isis, he must personify justice, or Maat.
Joseph Smith didn't make a surface-level "literal" translation of Maat and Isis. "However, is that what he was doing?" Asks Shirts in the year 2005. With Shirts as far as the opinions he had back then, I say no. Shirts was absolutely right about that. But Shirts didn't know what to do with Anubis as a slave. I would suggest one possibility, which is Ryan Larsen's approach to Anubis here:
Remember that Ryan Larsen points out that Abraham was possibly absorbed into Osiris as other gods were, like how Ra was absorbed with Amon into Amon-Re. This is the same with Osiris-Abraham, as Kevin Barney calls him. This is the same basic concept here as the combined deities that Ryan Larsen was getting at. Abraham was identified with Osiris, because he too was absorbed into Osiris and Osiris into him.
Anyhow, Shirts says that the Facsimile #1 represents the death scene in the west. The Facsimile #2 represents the cosmological map, or where we go when we die. And the Facsimile #3 is the place where we go for judgement, because it is the typical judgement scene, in the east. In the ancient Christian Hymn of the Pearl, it is the East that is the beginning-place where the soul came from, and the is the East to where the soul returns. So, Shirts says that the facsimiles appear in chronological order as they should. Facsimile #3 is where we go back to, after we die, the place of judgement. Shirts argues that this is a deification (or I would also say coronation) scene, because it is the place where we are judged. And since it is a deification scene, it makes sense that the characters are taking upon them the characteristics of gods. Joseph Smith called Facsimile #3 the grand presidency of heaven. As Shirts says, this is showing Osiris as Khenti-Amentiu ("Foremost") or President, as he is shown in the Book of the Dead.
So, in conclusion, I give this summary of Shirts' presentation, not because Shirts still agrees with it. But because it is still valid. And furthermore, everything that Shirts ways saying further demonstrates this same principle I have been talking about over and over. And it is the same principle that is manifest in Ryan Larsen's work. It shows that the value-assignments applied to the symbols are valid because the symbols and their value-assignments share fundamental attributes and criteria. Again, to repeat, this is the principle of abstractions and concretions, the same as in Computer Science. This is the same as a variable that is given a value-assignment. Except this is more meaningful than a regular old variable like X in algebra. Because the shared criteria or attributes (likeness) between the symbol and the value-assignment are meaningful. This is so in EVERY CASE. This is why, the symbols themselves are non-literal abstractions. What is meaningful is the values that are assigned to them, and you cannot know them without the explanation or table of value assignments, which serves as the key or glossary or legend to your "map." This is the same principle of things in nature and in life that are analogs to each other through having a "likeness." Because a symbol has a "likeness" to that which is assigned to it, it becomes a suitable symbol for it.
And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me. (Moses 6:63)
Herein is glory and honor, and immortality and eternal life—The ordinance of baptism by water, to be immersed therein in order to answer to the likeness of the dead, that one principle might accord with the other; to be immersed in the water and come forth out of the water is in the likeness of the resurrection of the dead in coming forth out of their graves; hence, this ordinance was instituted to form a relationship with the ordinance of baptism for the dead, being in likeness of the dead.
Consequently, the baptismal font was instituted as a similitude of the grave, and was commanded to be in a place underneath where the living are wont to assemble, to show forth the living and the dead, and that all things may have their likeness, and that they may accord one with another—that which is earthly conforming to that which is heavenly, as Paul hath declared, 1 Corinthians 15:46, 47, and 48:
Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as are the records on the earth in relation to your dead, which are truly made out, so also are the records in heaven. This, therefore, is the sealing and binding power, and, in one sense of the word, the keys of the kingdom, which consist in the key of knowledge. (D&C 128:12-14)So also with the Symbols of the Book of Abraham Papyrus, or in other words, the Sesnen Papyrus when repurposed as characters for use with the Book of Abraham. That which is Abstract in the Likeness of that which is Literal, that one principle might be in accord, the one with the other. In making a value assignment, a RELATIONSHIP WAS FORMED between the symbol and the literal value assignment, because of a likeness and a similitude. The symbols of the Book of Abraham papyrus have the same type of relationship with their value assignments as is manifest in how baptism is the abstract symbol of the literal death and the resurrection. The one being in accord with the other. So, it should not be hard to comprehend at this point that the same thing is manifest with Kolob and Khnum-Ra, both having a likeness, having an accord with each other, Khnum-Ra "answering to the likeness of" Kolob. And so, this is the fundamental principle with how these symbols work.